My Opinion of My Opinion Writing Class

Saturday, December 28, 2013

John Lithgow's 2012 Broadway portrayal of Joseph Alsop, one of America's most influential newspaper columnists

In probably my most fractious experience as a University of Massachusetts student, I was able to successfully navigate my way through the school’s recently concluded JOURNAL 392S, Opinion Writing: Columns offering.  It wasn’t easy to apply a kind adjective to the semester because a combination of events and issues made it a very unenjoyable 14 weeks for me and ended my certificate program on a negative note.

My Personal JFK Reflections

Friday, November 29, 2013
Aaron Shilker's posthumously commissioned official White House portrait of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Up until the tragic events of 9/11, people of my age group (and younger) did not have their own "where were you?" moment like those born before 1957-1958 did when our nation's 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas' Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963.  While our nation had experienced similar terrible events in its past (Pearl Harbor, the similar political killings of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, natural disasters like the 1906 Great San Francisco Earthquake), what made the Kennedy murder much more profound was in the way we all learned about it.  News of the Japanese attack on our Hawaiian naval and aviation outposts (and FDR's subsequent declaration of war against Japan) was disseminated via the most modern technology of that time--radio; however, because of its remote location, it took nearly two weeks for some newspapers to get the initial images of the damage and several months later for people to see the devastation in newsreel coverage at their local movie theaters.

Farewell, Early Bird

Sunday, November 10, 2013
A screen capture of a .pdf version of the Pentagon's final published Early Bird daily press compilation.

As we have seen in recent years--and will undoubtedly continue to see--in the print journalism sector, publications that were a significant part of the everyday lives of many thousands of people have been relegated to our collective memories due to the changing paradigms and business models of that industry.  While not its own unique periodical, the Pentagon's Early Bird was, for many, their main source of defense and defense-related national security information and they never paid a subscription price for its contents during its near 50-year run that officially ended on November 1st.

Journalism's Role in "The Panic Broadcast" of 1938

Monday, November 4, 2013
Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater on the Air show scared the bejeezus out of many Americans 75 years ago last week

There aren't many people around today that have a first-hand account of the Halloween Eve radio offering that was dubbed "the panic broadcast" when it first aired in late October 1938.  Orson Wells, the multi-talented actor, director, playwright and prodigy, transformed H.G. Wells' late 19th century novel The War of the Worlds into a live-action radio drama that transfixed portions of his audience in their chairs with a ring-side seat to the destruction of the human race by Martian invaders.

An "Old Dog" CAN Learn New Tricks!

Monday, October 21, 2013
[NOTE: this is another story that has taken way too long to post here--it was originally from February!] 

The Dayton Daily News dragged me into the "e-edition" world of newspaper reading.

First there were the introduction of symbols (cave paintings, petroglyphs, pictograms, and ideograms).  After writing and alphabets were developed, humans now had systems to document and record events.  Through smoke signals, drums, horns, runners, pigeons, lamps, telegraphy, radio and television, the dissemination of those events could now be more widely and, via those last three, almost instantaneously announced to a global audience.  The introduction of computers and internet-based communications exponentially enhanced this process to the point of almost reversing course and replicating the mediums it replaced.  Streaming audio and video have eliminated the temporal demands of radio and television programming.  Now, with devices and software interfaces to closely resemble the newspaper reading experience, another long-held tradition appears to be biting the dust.

My Media Vacation (Part 1 of 3): New York City

Sunday, October 13, 2013
[NOTE: Due to the amount of research I've been doing for my current journalism class and work-related activities, my brain is a little too "fried" for a deep-thought posting.  A while back, I shared parts of a vacation trip that I made with my son over to the East Coast in late July/early August 2012.  These are some of the photos that I took along the way--I hope you enjoy them!] 

"30 Rock" serves as the anchor of New York City's Rockefeller Plaza (and the headquarters of NBC News)

After the reunion/family-related activities of our visit back in Pennsylvania was completed, our first stop for this father/son "road trip" was Secaucus, New Jersey--just across the river from Manhattan and the recognized media capital of the world, New York City.  I chose the cross-river location due to expenses (a two-night stay at a quality hotel in "the Garden State" was roughly equivalent to a single night just five miles to the east) and easy access to the city itself (we were just one exit away from the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel and mid-town locations).  Fortunately, a day-long tour bus stopped right outside our lobby and we made sure we were up bright and early for day one of our two-day visit to "the Big Apple".

"Will McAvoy" Wins Best Actor Emmy (and My Critique of Season 2 of HBO's The Newsroom)

Sunday, September 29, 2013
[NOTE: this post will discuss story elements--and probably introduce spoilers--from the recently completed second season of HBO's The Newsroom...if you have not yet finished watching, be advised!] 

Jeff Daniels, star of HBO's The Newsroom, proudly poses backstage after winning his Primetime Emmy Award last  Sunday night (photo copyright PA Images Dan Steinberg/AP).

In a somewhat mild upset, a fictitious cable news anchorman beat out a similarly pretend former teacher turned meth manufacturer at last Sunday night's 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, broadcast from the Nokia Theater L.A. Live in Los Angeles.  Jeff Daniels, who plays cable news anchor Will McAvoy on HBO's The Newsroom, was chosen over a group of five others, which included perceived favorite Bryan Cranston (Walter White from AMC's critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad) for the honor of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. This was Daniels' first Emmy award nomination and second major acting award win (his portrayal as Dr. Ross Jennings in the 1990 film Arachnophobia earned him a Saturn Award for best actor in a science fiction, fantasy or horror film or television role).  I am calling it an "upset" because Breaking Bad, a very popular show via live and streaming viewing, was coming to the end of its five-season run tonight and its lead actor had won three consecutive Emmys between 2008 and 2010 (he also bested Kevin Spacey, Congressman Francis "Frank" Underwood from another of my favorite shows, the Netflix non-broadcast series House of Cards).

"Talking Heads" are Not News Anchors

Saturday, September 21, 2013

As much as I might like them in their regular roles, Ed, Al and Chris are not at their best when anchoring live news events.

This past Monday, our nation experienced its most recent mass shooting tragedy when 12 workers at a US military installation in the District of Columbia were killed and 14 were wounded when a lone gunman opened fire on a crowded atrium within the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters building at the beginning of the work day.  At around 8:20AM, Aaron Alexis, a 34-year old defense subcontractor and former Navy reservist, drove his rental car inside that defense-related installation with a recently purchased shotgun and 24 rounds of ammunition (he would also acquire a 9mm semi-automatic pistol from a security officer he shot on his way to that electronically protected main building and possibly one more from an internal official) and made his way to a strategic position on a 4th floor walkway overlooking that congested food service area during their breakfast service.  Facility and district law enforcement officials responded within 2-3 minutes of the 911 call and eventually encountered Alexis along the walkway.  After wounding an officer and at the end of an approximately 30 minute standoff, he was fatally shot and killed at around 9AM.  These are facts that, in the span of 24 to 48 hours after-the-fact can be succinctly conveyed in a 12-line area of a blog; however, in the immediate aftermath of such a rapidly evolving event, brevity and clarity is nearly non-existent and these scenarios pose significant impediments to those who have been trained to tell us the news.  A much more dire situation occurs when we must endure this process with people who have no formal journalism backgrounds and must ramble on because they must fill their outlet's unlimited air time and I personally witnessed that embarrassment on Monday afternoon on MSNBC.

MSNBC Dissed Me (Again)!

Friday, September 13, 2013

This was probably the only thing that The Daily Rundown got right in this recognition

Thanks to MSNBC's Chris Jansing, I learned a new word today (friggatriskaidekaphobia, or more commonly known as "fear of Friday the 13th") and I might have to affix blame to this rarely occurring calendrical event to explain how that channel screwed up (once again), this time on a very personal level, because I don't want to think that it may have been done deliberately.

Revisit: The (Re)Birth of a Network

Monday, September 2, 2013
[NOTE: this is a new feature that I'm hoping not to have to use that often that goes back to items that I previously posted on this blog and, through personal miscalculations or events totally out of my control, have been proven to no longer be accurate.  I couldn't decide between calling it a "retraction" or a "revision" so I opted for the "revisit" moniker instead.]

When I checked this blog's statistics over the weekend, I noticed that the post I did about Current TV back in March 2012 had 133 page views during the past week (August 25 - September 1) and 437 over the past month (August 1 - September 1).  At the time that I uploaded it, that cable news outlet was trying to posture itself as the 'progressive' alternative to MSNBC's left-leaning programming.  With a marque name on its payroll (the former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann), a solidifying prime-time lineup and simulcasts of popular liberal radio talk show hosts during the 6AM-noon time slots, it appeared that the station initially envisioned as a viewer-generated channel to specifically focus on the lucrative 18-34 market demographic could pose a serious challenge to the "Big Three" of cable news offerings.  The specific date of that posting was March 27th and it would be an event just three days later--unforeseen by me at that time--that would spell the beginning of the end of that challenge.

Photojournalism Course Completed!

Monday, August 26, 2013
I now know how Clem Inspeak, the fedora-wearing foreground gentleman above with the antiquated equipment, must have felt after being in a photojournalism class with students using Canon 5D Mark III cameras (photo by Larry Bessel and courtesy of The Los Angeles Times).

It's hard to believe that six weeks have past since I began JOURNAL 333, Introduction to Digital Photojournalism, my latest course with the University of Massachusetts Amherst's online journalism program.  Starting at the end of a personal "stay-cation" (I watched the household while my wife went on an Alaskan cruise with family members), the 16 students in the class were given weekly assignments to exemplify and demonstrate knowledge of the readings and other information provided by our instructor.  Subjects for these photo shoots ranged from a self-portrait to the selection of workplace-related images to submitting ones demonstrating personal relationships (the overall capstone project was a photographic essay).  With all of the picture taking I have done here over the past two years, I thought that I had a good bead on what would be required to pass the class and my grades and instructor feedback seem to back up that initial presumption.  Since I like to show off my work, I will post a few of the pics that I took

In Memorium: Helen Thomas

Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Renowned journalist Helen Thomas reads a copy of The New York Times in her front row seat in the White House Briefing Room on August 2, 2006 (photo courtesy of Brenden Smalowski/Getty Images)

Helen Amelia Thomas, a pioneering American journalist whose career spanned eight decades and marked the inclusion of women into one of the country's most elite all-male organizations, died on Saturday at the age of 92.  Hired in 1943 by United Press, she remained with that press outlet (which eventually became United Press International) and served in a variety of capacities for the next 57 years.  In 1961, she was named the UPI's White House correspondent--the first woman given such a  position--and stayed there as bureau manager until she resigned and moved to Hearst Newspapers in 2000 to write a national affairs opinion column.  It was in that position that her controversial personal opinions on Middle Eastern affairs were recorded and posted online which resulted in her abrupt resignation in 2010.  She moved on to a suburban Washington weekly seven months later and remained on their staff until her passing.  In addition to her milestone in the White House Briefing Room, Thomas was also the first woman officer of the National Press Club, first female president of the White House Correspondents Association and first woman member of the Gridiron Club, the oldest and one of the most prestigious journalistic organizations in the nation's capital. 

Second Season of "The Newsroom" Starts Tomorrow Night

Saturday, July 13, 2013

One of the posts that I had sitting on the "back burner" was to be a critique of last year's premiere season of HBO's The Newsroom, a show that was supposed to give its viewers an inside glimpse into the personnel, logistics and purpose behind today's cable news programming.  Set at the fictional Atlantis Cable Network, we follow the lives of News Night's on- and off-air personnel in their complicated professional and personal lives.  I won't attempt to cover all of the season's highlights and plot lines but I'll let series creator Aaron Sorkin and others provide an overview.

I'm Certified!!!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Although it is not yet official (my grades for the recent public relations course I took have not been posted but I earned 97 out of a total of 100 available points), I have met the requirements of certification through the University of Massachusetts Amherst's journalism program and can cross it off of my "bucket list".  It's hard to believe that almost two years have transpired since I found their online offering and signed up for my first class back in the fall of 2011.  Looking back over that time, I've learned a lot about this profession and got a real taste of what its practitioners encounter on a daily basis.  In addition to the basics (overview/history and writing/reporting), I dabbled into today's online media trends and learned about the ethical constraints that must be adhered to in order to present an unbiased yet informative submission.  Once I see this most recent grade updated, I will contact the school to start the process of obtaining the actual certificate that will formally document my accomplishment.

While I have taken (and passed) their minimum requirements, I am planning on virtually attending more courses (if the VA is OK with that) to further expand my overall awareness and narrow my focus concerning a future career in journalism.  Next Monday, I am starting their abbreviated summer photojournalism course and I just saw that a class on opinion writing and columns is being offered in the fall.  I've become more comfortable with my camera over the months and I'm hoping to learn more about its capabilities over the next six weeks in order to improve my visual products.  If the truth be told, my "dream job" would be as a weekly/periodic columnist so I would enthusiastically welcome formal instruction and professional critiquing on my submissions in order to solidify my current writing skills.  Registration for that class doesn't open until July 17th so I'll have to set a personal reminder to do that as soon as possible.

Reflecting back on this accomplishment, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the instructors, fellow students, professional journalists and others that have inspired me and touched my life over the past 23 months.  Early on in my reporting class, I soon learned that restrained enthusiasm might get you to an event or a location; however, you also need to develop relationships and connections with others both inside and peripheral to the profession.  Such linkage facilitates access to the subjects and stories that need to be made available to a worldwide community of media consumers.  I could not have gotten into some of the places that I did last year without the benevolence of several people who took a chance on accrediting a college journalism student and blogger who wanted to cover presidential politics.  I hope that I can someday be in a position to repay that debt to another person in my same situation.

Back to School!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
With apologies to Thorton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) and Grand Lakes University--Home of the Hooters!

Yesterday was the official end of my "hiatus" from my online journalism classes with the start of UMass Amherst's 2013 summer semester.  It began on May 20th with the first of their two CPE sessions and I will be utilizing both of them to meet my class attendance requirements for their Certificate in Journalism (JOURNAL 392P, Writing for Public Relations, will run through the end of June and JOURNAL 333, Introduction to Digital Photojournalism, will carry me all the way through mid-August).  I opted for this "turbo" strategy because the classes are shorter (six weeks versus the 14 weeks during the traditional fall and spring semesters) and this compacted schedule will allow me to stretch out my Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits for future classes through this school or, perhaps,to pursue another certificate with another institution. 

BTS: Obama's Stretch Run in Ohio (Part 1 of 2)

Monday, May 6, 2013
[NOTE: this is the first of a two-part installment of my "behind the scenes" observations related to the 2012 presidential campaign.  With the nearly 6-month delay between the events and this posting, I might overlook some of the trivial things I endured but I wanted to finally jot down the main items as well as my reflections on the entire reporting experience.] 

Seasongood Pavillion in Cincinnati's Eden Park being prepared the evening before President Obama's "grassroots event" last September

If you go back to my last "BTS" feature (related to my coverage of Vice President Joe Biden's September 12th "grassroots rally" at Wright State University), you would see that I (finally!) established contact with the Obama campaign's press office and was issued official press credentials to cover that rally as a full-fledged member of the media.  Since they had me on their email notification roster, I was receiving several updates per day on the current, recently completed, and upcoming events scheduled for the president and his running mate.  With Ohio as the biggest "swing state" prize in the November general election, it was only a matter of time before Obama would make his own appearance in the local area, and I received the following advisory just a few short days later:

SPJ Region 4 Spring Conference -- Dayton, Ohio

Thursday, April 18, 2013

As the days of my self-imposed "hiatus" from online courses come to a close, I had been searching for an event that might "jump-start" the passion I had when I took up this initiative just 18 months ago.  Being a member of good standing in the Society of Professional Journalists (in a student capacity), I was already receiving email notifications about their annual Excellence in Journalism conference scheduled for late August in Anaheim, California.  Given several months notice, I would be able to set aside the shekels required to get me there plus a few days for sightseeing in the greater Los Angeles area to boot.  I was all ready to make the arrangements when I received another mailing in late March about an SPJ event that was happening practically in my backyard.

My (Kinda Sorta) National Television Debut

Monday, March 11, 2013
[NOTE: with the nice weekend weather in these parts, I was originally going to take a trip down to the University of Cincinnati campus to report on an evolving controversy with potential national implications involving the open display of female genitalia and First Amendment protections.  Instead, I opted to write about an issue that strikes closer to home--at least for me.]

The Daily Rundown's host Chuck Todd giving his First Read on a very busy Wednesday morning...perhaps it was a little too busy for the MSNBC graphics department

While my blogging has been few and far between during these first few months of 2013, I am still keeping up with what is going on in the world around me (my last post is proof of that continuing awareness) and in domestic political circles, too.  One of my "can't miss" television programs about politics, The Daily Rundown, airs every weekday morning on the MSNBC cable news channel.  If you look through my postings over the past 15 months, I have blogged about it here several times already to offer my congratulations (and criticisms) when warranted.  Unfortunately, this entry falls under the latter category.

What a "Chock Full O'News" Week!

Sunday, February 24, 2013
[NOTE: my bout of "procrastinitus" continues but I could not allow the events of the past seven days go by without commenting.  BTW, this is my 100th published post--a milestone that I should have attained much sooner.]

Consumers of news, like me, understand that there are periods of "feast and famine" concerning the pace of national and international events.  The week of February 11-18, 2013 might go down as one of the busiest of the year and no portion of the information spectrum was neglected (which was very appreciated by the cable news and newspaper outlets).  Here's a breakdown of what transpired last week.

Et Tu, Gray Lady?

Monday, January 28, 2013
This weekly section marked a small, but noticeable, change for The New York Times print edition last week

If you have read any of my other posts on this blog, you might be aware that I am someone who is not a fan of change for change sake, especially when it comes to printed newspapers.  Last spring, I called out my local paper, The Dayton Daily News, for making cosmetic changes to their publication that, in my opinion, were unwarranted and simply a ploy to placate their readership's current whims.  In a follow-up piece, I expressed my displeasure with the folks at The New York Times Magazine for toying around with different fonts for its masthead in, what I hoped would be, a one-time experiment.  I haven't seen any subsequent violations of that "sacrosanct" journalism symbol since, but you can imagine my surprise when I took yesterday's copy of The New York Times out of its protective plastic sleeve and saw the wholesale changes they made to the entire paper (minus the news section, the magazine and the Book Review).

Journalism Intruded Upon My 'Hiatus'

Monday, January 7, 2013
Three Oscar-contending films...and all feature some elements of our past and present press in their presentations

From around Thanksgiving to the start of the new year, I was in a 'hiatus' status that was based on a variety of reasons both within--and outside--of my direct control.  While I ignored my responsibility to this site during that period, I did do other things that, unexpectedly, kept the topic of journalism in my conscience thoughts.  Some of those activities included taking in a few movies that are believed to be high on the lists for Oscar consideration later next month.  I picked them because of that "buzz" as well as the subject material and/or theme of the film but all three did resonate with me due to my current studies and other personal connections. [SPOILER ALERT: while these are not meant to be full-fledged movie reviews, I will be discussing elements that may ruin the experience for you if you have not seen them yet so please be aware.]